Let’s take off the blinkers and see clearly

Published in the Jewish Chronicle, December 3 2004

Those of us who earn our living through words are wary of admitting the power of a picture, but sometimes it?s best to know when you?re beaten. So it is in the case of the video footage that surfaced last week in Israel.

It showed a Palestinian musician, forced by Israeli soldiers to play his violin at a military checkpoint. The Israelis suggested that Wissam Tayem ?play something sad.? Once he obliged, they jeered and laughed at him.

For some reason, and I think we can all guess what that is, the image of the musician at gunpoint shook Israel from its slumber. Playwright Yoram Kaniuk, who had written about a Jewish violinist forced to play for a Nazi camp commandant, demanded that the soldiers involved be charged ? ?not for abusing Arabs but for disgracing the Holocaust.? In a rare move, the mass circulation daily Yediot Achronot moved columnist Meir Shalev onto the front page, where he echoed Kaniuk: ?Once we were the people who played the violin. The Jewish violin played in weddings, and at concert halls, and before the thugs in the camps. We played and joked: the violin is our instrument because it is so small, so easy to carry when you need to run away...?

But now Israelis are the ones demanding the music, not playing it: it must have been a shock to look in the mirror and see such a familiar, and ugly, face. But it was not the first shock of its kind. A matter of days earlier, the country had heard a tape recording of an IDF captain in conversation with his men, defending his decision to kill a 13 year old girl who had walked into a ?security area? on the edge of the Rafah refugee camp. Captain R told his anxious subordinates that even a three year old who had made the same mistake would deserve to die. What troubled the men under Captain R?s command was not just that he had killed the girl, but that he turned around to fire a stream of bullets into her corpse. ?Confirming the kill,? it is called.

And, as if to complete the picture, photographs emerged of Israeli soldiers larking around with the body parts of their slain Palestinian enemies. One showed the head of a reported suicide bomber impaled on a pole, with a cigarette stuck in his mouth.

So it?s been quite a week. But if someone resorts to that old clich